The momentum was certainly not in the Oakland A’s favor in the top of the seventh inning when Mark Kotsay stood in the batters’ box with Jason Kendall at first base with two-outs. Oakland had just surrendered a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth thanks to back-to-back homeruns by Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau off of A’s starter Esteban Loaiza.
Kendall had barely beaten out a double-play ball to get Kotsay to the plate in the seventh and the Twins’ top lefty reliever, Dennys Reyes, was on the mound to face the left-handed Kotsay. In addition, the 55,000-plus dedicated fans at the Metrodome were screaming in anticipation of the A’s being retired in the top of the seventh and the Twins perhaps gaining the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Kotsay, however, had other ideas. The A’s plucky centerfielder lined a ball to centerfield, a sure hit that looked like it would extend the inning for the A’s number three hitter Milton Bradley. That drive turned into a lot more than an inning-extender when the Twins’ Gold Glove centerfielder Torii Hunter made a curious decision to dive for the ball rather than play it on a hop.
The ball skipped past Hunter and the race was on for Kotsay. Kendall cruised home and Kotsay chugged close behind him, running so hard his shirt tail came out of his pants. He slid-in ahead of the relay throw home and the A’s went from being tied at 2-2 and losing in the momentum battle to being up 4-2 and being able to enjoy some silence from the deafening roar of the crowd in Minneapolis.
“I thought it might go down, but Torii is a great center fielder, so I kind of hesitated for a second out of the box,” Kotsay said after the game.
“Once I saw it get by him, I took off and tried to stay as loose as possible running the bases …[I} showed a little more emotion than I am used to crossing the plate, but obviously, it's the playoffs and things are exciting.”
A’s ace reliever Justin Duchscherer made sure that the momentum stayed on the A’s side in the bottom of the seventh, as he calmly retired the side in order. He did the same in the bottom of the eighth inning, bringing the A’s into the top of the ninth with a 4-2 lead.
Nick Swisher came to the plate in the top of the ninth having already doubled and scored in the fifth inning. He grounded a Juan Rincon pitch into right-field and when he noticed that Cuddyer had a long way to run to get to the grounder, Swisher made a mad dash into second for a hustle double.
That hustle turned out to be huge, as the A’s next hitter, Marco Scutaro, was able to battle Rincon and eventually ground a ball to the right-side, moving Swisher to third. Scutaro, is in the midst of a fine series. In addition to his strong situational hitting on Wednesday, he also doubled home Swisher in the fifth, his second run-scoring double in the series.
The Twins then decided to bring in their ace closer Joe Nathan to face A’s second baseman Mark Ellis, who was 2-3 in the game. Nathan got ahead of Ellis early, but uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Swisher. The at-bat wasn’t all positive for Oakland, however. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Nathan threw a pitch inside that Ellis swung at. The ball ricocheted off of Ellis’ index finger on his throwing (right) hand. The impact fractured Ellis’ finger, putting his status in doubt for the rest of the post-season.
The A’s took that 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, where Duchscherer handed the ball over to closer Huston Street. Street retired the first two batters quickly and then allowed a two-strike base-hit to Jason Bartlett and walked Luis Castillo on a full-count. He then went full on Nick Punto, but got the Twins’ third baseman to pop out to short to end the game. Kiko Calero got the win for pitching a scoreless sixth after Loaiza gave up the two homeruns.
“Our bullpen has pitched good for us and all year, Kiko come out and get three outs for us, Duchscherer, six hitters, six outs, and, of course, Street with the save. So the pitching today, I thought we did a great job of pitching, two homeruns and that was it,” Macha said.
Macha was especially effusive about Scutaro’s play after the game. Scutaro was solid with the glove in addition to contributing a double, an RBI, a run scored and moving Swisher over to third in the ninth.
“Our shortstop probably was the key to the whole game. He had six ground balls -- or eight ground ball outs hit to him, caught the last ball, got up with a runner on second, nobody out twice, first time he knocks them in and hits a double, next time he moves a runner over to third, and we get an extra run, so he personally counted for three runs and did a tremendous job in the field,” Macha said.
“This guy gets under the radar all the time. To me he was the key to the whole game today.”
Oakland heads back home with a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five series. The A’s will send Dan Haren to the mound on Friday against Minnesota veteran right-hander Brad Radke. Radke has some history pitching against the A’s when Oakland is attempting to clinch a series, as he was the winning pitcher for the Twins in that infamous Game 4 of the 2002 ALDS. Radke is likely retiring after this season and is pitching through a broken shoulder.